J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tribeca ’17: Take Me

Frankly, in today’s neurotic world, the concept behind Ray Moody’s Kidnap Solutions, LLC has commercial potential. His simulated kidnappings offer aversion therapy (in the tradition of the Tales from the Darkside episode, “Bigalow’s Last Smoke”) and fetishistic escapism. He just isn’t the right person to realize its potential. Anna St. Blair would be the perfect client to spread word-of-mouth, but it is unclear whether she really is a willing customer. The kidnapper and kidnappee may have been set-up in Pat Healy’s Take Me (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

There was a time when Kidnap Solutions was growing in leaps and bounds. Sadly, when Moody’s ex-wife walked out on him, she left him holding the bag for a kidnapping that went awry. Personally and professionally, he still has not recovered from her betrayal. However, the lucrative gig St. Blair is offering will give him a bit of the seed capital he has been seeking. The only catch is her request for more rough stuff than he is ordinarily comfortable with.

When the abduction starts, St. Blair seems genuinely terrified. When she is subsequently reported missing, Moody realizes he might be in serious legal trouble. Rather awkwardly, St. Blair does not seem inclined to forgive and forget, so he will have to hold onto her until he can convince her to see reason.

As lead actor and debut director, Healy has crafted a spritely farce seasoned with tar-black humor. This is a comedy that draws blood (all of it his own). Arguably, he is his own best asset, playing Moody as a likably nebbish striver in the tradition of Willy Loman (wearing a balaclava). Even when we laugh at his humiliation, we sort of want to see him overcome. As the second half of the more-or-less two-hander, Taylor Schilling is a smart, forceful, and altogether worthy foil.

Granted, the predictable predictableness of the final twist is maybe not so surprising, but the film is more about the verbal sparring and gamesmanship of the two leads than the actual power reversals. It is just good fun to watch and listen to Healy and Schilling verbally spar. It is a relatively modest production, but if Take Me becomes a hit, Healy and Schilling could perform it on stage as a nostalgia act for years to come. Recommended for viewers who enjoy a bit of shaggy dog mayhem, Take Me screens again tomorrow (4/27), Friday (4/28), and Saturday (4/29), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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The Black Room: Natasha Henstridge Faces Temptation

How sad is it when people get possessed in Ouija movies just because they were playing a commercially produced board game? At least victims of the “us” demons (succubus and incubus) get a little gratification before damnation. That is the sort of entity that lurks in the basement of the Hemdales’ new home. They are in for a scorching hot time and it not just because of their overheating boiler in Rolfe Kanefsky’s ridiculously silly, shamelessly horny The Black Room (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

As soon as Paul and Jennifer Hemdale move into their amazingly affordable new house, strange things start happening. You might ask what “strange” means in this context. Let’s just say when you see Natasha Henstridge orgasming from the vibrations of a demonically possessed washing machine, you know you haven’t walked into a long-lost Val Lewton film.

Apparently, the previous owner sacrificed herself to save her granddaughter from the demon lurking within the hidden room in the basement. Of course, why she would let the nubile teen sleep over knowing there was a sex demon barely contained downstairs is such a blindingly obvious question, we keep asking it throughout the film.

Before long, the entity is making the Hemdales all hot and bothered, while sowing dissension through their resulting misunderstandings. Soon, it flat out possesses Paul, just in time for the arrival of Jennifer’s obnoxious gothy, occulty little sister. She ought to realize something is off about Paul’s outrageously sexualized behavior. Unfortunately, Jennifer will have to face it on her own, with only the counsel of the still defiant grandmother’s spirit for help.

Every time you assume this film can’t possibly go any further over the top, it goes and does something even more nuts. Its spectacles of infernal orgies are neither erotic or scary, but they are a sight that must be seen to be believed. Forget logic, forget modesty, and just hang on and try to enjoy the ride as this train wreck of a film careens off the bridge.

Henstridge from Species still looks like a scream queen sex symbol, which is obviously why Kanefsky cast her. Somehow, she manages to stay relatively grounded and maintain the shreds of her dignity, washing machines notwithstanding. In contrast, Lukas Hassel understandably figures the only way out is to fight fire with fire. “Scenery chewing” doesn’t even begin to describe his outrageously flamboyant turn as Paul Hemdale. Apparently, the mania was contagious, because even the typically reliable horror film stalwart Lin Shaye sounds wacky and forced as Grandma Black. Oh and by the way, Tiffany Shepis plays Monica the realtor in what might be the film’s most restrained performance.

It is impossible to recommend a film like The Black Room, but if you see it now, you will reference it for years to come. It is just so weird and smarmy, it is hard to believe it actually exists—and yet it does. Words fail when The Black Room opens this Friday (4/28) at the Laemmle Music Hall in La La Land.

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Small Crimes: E.L. Katz’s New Film on Netflix

Joe Denton is not the slightest bit remorseful, but he sure is sorry. Formerly a corrupt cop, the recently released ex-con has caused a lot of trouble for people close to him. However, the truth of the incident he did time for is even worse than people think. Unfortunately for Denton and his prospects for a straight life, the gangster who ordered it all might be considering turning deathbed stool pigeon in E.L. Katz’s Small Crimes (trailer here), which debuts on Netflix this Friday.

Denton might have conned the parole board, but his long-suffering parents doubt whether he has truly reformed—not that they will see much of him after his release. Having survived a random, small-time set-up (awkwardly orchestrated by the wayward daughter of Phil Coakley, a prosecutor literally scarred by Denton’s misadventures), the ex-cop gets a good talking-to from his ex-partner, Lt. Pleasant, who isn’t. Vassey, the gangster who ordered the disastrous hit-job Denton claimed was self-defense, has been having long conversations with Coakley. Pleasant insists Denton must kill Vassey or potentially suffer the consequences.

However, getting close enough to Vassey will be difficult, thanks to the interference of his psychotic son Junior and the diligent care of his nurse, Charlotte Boyd. Denton starts romancing her for strategic reasons, but finds himself genuinely attracted to Boyd, which complicates matters even further.

Small Crimes is an insidiously clever one-darned-thing-after-another crime thriller, featuring a veritable who’s who of genre cult favorites in its supporting cast. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (from Game of Thrones) is absolutely terrific as Denton. He has such disheveled sad sack charm, you lose track of how truly degenerate he is, until the totality of his jerkweedness comes back to roost down the stretch. He also develops some surprisingly subtle and mature chemistry with Molly Parker’s Boyd.

Co-screenwriter Macon Blair (screenwriter and star of Blue Ruin) adds color and poignancy as Scotty, the oblivious brother of the best friend Denton kind of, sort of killed, while Pat Healy does his thing as the sadistic Junior. Larry Fessenden adds further genre cred in a small but appropriately sleazy role. However, nobody upstages or in any way steps in the light of Gary Cole’s entertainingly evil Lt. Pleasant.

Small Crimes is old school all the way. Its characters exist in a world where evil prospers because it is more fun. Katz keeps the noir badness lean and mean, with credit also due to the tight work of frequent horror movie editor (and sometimes actor) Josh Ethier. If you want to enjoy some skullduggery without any tiresome teaching moments, this is your cup of spiked tea. Enthusiastically recommended for hardboiled fans, Small Crimes starts streaming this Friday (4/28) on Netflix.

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Tribeca ’17: The Endless

Maybe the hippie commune Justin Smith rescued his younger brother Aaron from was not quite the “castrating doomsday UFO cult” he thought it was, but you still would not call it a New Religious Movement. Regardless, the brothers are probably not being unduly alarmist when they assume the worst from a “goodbye” video they receive from a former friend. Against the older brother’s better judgement, they will visit their former “family” before they “ascend” in Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless, which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Frankly, one look at the smiling tool standing at the gate of Camp Arcadia would have made us do an immediate one-eighty. The anti-social fellow who keeps brusquely walking in straight lines is also rather off-putting. However, Anna, their big sister figure is as lovely and welcoming as ever—and she hardly seems to have aged at all.

In contrast, life has been hard for the brothers in the years that followed their Camp Arcadia escape. In fact, Aaron remembers the plentiful food and kumbaya gatherings rather fondly. Justin was hoping their visit would serve as an antidote to his nostalgia, but it might have the opposite effect. However, after the older brother gets the heave-ho from Arcadia, he stumbles into the truth. The real secret of Camp Arcadia is truly Hellish in a Sisyphean sense, but the camper cultists have embraced it out of their warped hippy spirituality.

There is no question the big reveal and its implications takes a while to unpack. However, it mostly all tallies, once you account for the varying severity of the x-factor in question. In any event, the cosmic scope and ambition of Endless are quite impressive, especially considering the intimate scale of the drama. Filmmaking partners Benson and Moorhead are terrific as the Smith Brothers. They really demonstrate the fine line between love and resentment, constantly crossing over and back. Perhaps drawing on their experience making Resolution, Spring, and the “Bonestorm” segment of V/H/S Viral, B&M really project a sense of the brothers’ long, chaotic shared history together.

In all honesty, The Endless is one of the more intelligent and emotionally sophisticated genre films you will see all year, but it has received unfairly middling notices thus far at Tribeca. This may well be due to the cult-themed subject matter. At a time when the advocacy-media is promoting large-scale demonstrations, any film that problematizes acquiescence to the moral judgement of the collective unit is likely to face instinctive resistance, so to speak.

That will be a real shame if it successfully dampens the enthusiasm of fans of Benson & Moorhead’s prior films. Smart, tense, and psychologically realistic, The Endless is highly recommended for fans of cult movies (in both senses) when it screens again tonight (4/26) and Saturday (4/29), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tribeca ’17: November

Culturally, the Baltic States are considered more closely akin to Scandinavia than the Slavic countries, but the gothic goings on in this 19th Century Estonian village are downright Carpathian. Even the Devil himself has a role to play in Rainer Sarnet’s November (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Fundamentally, November is a story of mismatched and thwarted love. Pretty peasant girl Liina has fallen for Hans, the dashing Brom Bones of the village, but he has hopelessly and futilely fallen for the sleepwalking ward of the local lord. Much to her horror, Liina has been promised to a much older rustic by her severe grandfather. Liina’s mother does not approve of the match, but she remains estranged from her crotchety father, even though she is now a ghost.

Despite their Medieval-style Orthodox faith, the villagers are in constant commerce with the sulfuric one. To maintain their subsistence living, they build “kratts,” eerie looking robotic creatures constructed out of farm implements, but to animate them, they must purchase a soul from the Devil, at the cost of their own. They will also have to contend with the shape-shifting plague, which comes to town in the guise of a beautiful woman, but fittingly assumes the form of a goat.

November is the sort of film that is greater in the sum of its parts than as a whole. There are some wonderfully macabre and inventive scenes distributed throughout the film, but the parallel stories of Liina and Hans’ unrequited love really start to drag. Still, the kratt effects are wonderfully weird and eccentric, while Mart Taniel’s black-and-white cinematography is absolutely arresting.

Pacing might be an issue for Sarnet, but he creates a consistently otherworldly tone. It is an unsettling vibe, not entirely dissimilar from Robert Eggers’ The Witch and Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Mother Joan of the Angels. November is stuffed with creepiness, including hints there might be something lycanthropic going on with Liina. Yet, it is a cold, impersonal film that always keeps viewers at arm’s length.

Frankly, November is so ambitious and richly crafted, it is worth seeing just for its visuals. It is an auteurist film through and through that is guaranteed to attract a cult following among Tarkovsky and Zuławski fans. Recommended for bold cineastes, November screens again this afternoon (4/25), tomorrow (4/26), and Thursday (4/27), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Black Rose: Red Heat Redux for the Putin Era

Sadly, the constant abuse of the media, activists, and politicians has so thoroughly demoralized the LAPD, they will have to import a hard-charging shoot-from-the-hip cop from Russia to stop a serial killer. Since all the victims have been Russian-speaking women, they will have a legitimate excuse to recruit the help of Vladimir Kazatov. Unfortunately, the killer will soon turn his attention towards Kazatov’s pretty American partner in Black Rose (trailer here), directed by Alexander Nevsky (because Ivan the Terrible wasn’t available), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Despite the mounting death toll, the Russian community refuses to talk to the LAPD. Of course, the expats are sure to trust Kazatov, because it’s not like the Russian legal system has a reputation for corruption and oppression. Regardless, he and LAPD profiler Emily Smith quickly establish all the murdered women worked as “hostesses” in an exclusive Russian gentleman’s club.

That ought to be a significant break in the case, but Kazatov still has to sneak around, kicking down doors, sans warrant. Further complicating the investigation, the killer somehow got a hold of Smith’s number and frequently calls to do deep breathing exercises.

Black Rose is the sort of film where the police think the most effective course of action they can take is standing around, having expositional conversations. Aside from the initial Moscow bank robbery sequence, featuring Euro cult favorite Matthias Hues, there just isn’t a lot of action in this action movie. Instead, it relies on the Tracy-and-Hepburn chemistry shared by Nevsky (a bodybuilder-turned-actor, born Alexander Kuritsyn) and Kristanna Loken (from Terminator 3 and BloodRayne). The fact that their endless bantering doesn’t completely collapse into a train wreck is a near miracle.

About the only thing going for Black Rose is a supporting cast chocked full of reliable character actors, including the great Robert Davi, chewing the scenery for all its worth as Captain Frank Dalano. However, it is rather depressing to see the post-Highlander Adrian Paul mope through the film as Matt Robinson, the ineffectual detective yanked off the case.

Nevsky has decent action chops, but with a name like that, he’d darn well better. Loken also deserves credit for gamely soldiering through, but their simplistic investigation holds little interest. We just can’t recommend Black Rose, but we’d be willing to give Nevsky another shot if his subsequent Showdown in Manila (directed by Mark Dacascos) follows it into theaters. That’s the long and the short of it when Black Rose opens this Friday (4/28) in LA at the Laemmle Monica Film Center.

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A Dark Song: The Truth about Angels and Demons

Forget Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life. Bells never ring when these Holy Guardian Angels get their wings, but they are very real and they really do accompany humans through life. However, demons are also very real—and they are easier to interact with through supernatural means. A grieving mother hopes to call her Guardian Angel to request a final conversation with her murdered son, but the risks are fantastically high in Liam Gavin’s A Dark Song (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

If you know anything about Aleister Crowley and the occultist movement, you might be familiar with the Abramelin Ritual. Reportedly, Crowley started one, but left it unfinished, with disastrous consequences. According to esoterica, anyone who completes the long, grueling procedure will finally see their Holy Guardian Angel, who will them be compelled to grant whatever wish the supplicant asks for. Of course, whatever unseen demons might be in the area will do their best to disrupt the ritual and doom the practitioner, body and soul.

To complete the ritual, Sophia Howard will need a wingman. The alcoholic Joseph Solomon is not perfect, but he has extensive experience in the occult. He conducted a prior Abramelin Ritual. Though unsuccessful, he lived to tell the tale. Once the ritual starts, occult things start going bump in the night, but the situation really turns dire when Solomon begins to doubt her motives.

There is no need to mince words—A Dark Song is absolutely terrifying. You have to go back to the original Exorcist to find a horror film that is equally serious when addressing themes of good and evil. It is the kind of movie that feels like it is pulling back the curtain surrounding our materialistic existences, giving us a peak at the deeper, darker truth beyond.

Gavin’s execution is unremittingly tense and eerily evocative of occultist archetypes. He adroitly capitalizes on the claustrophobic location and sinister trappings. Once the circle of salt is circumscribed around the house, we can just feel bad things will happen inside. He also gets invaluable assists from Catherine Walker and Steve Oram, who are absolutely electric playing off each other.

This is one of the scariest films of the year. Yet, it is also a deeply moral film, again much like The Exorcist. In fact, it will not leave viewers bereft of hope, unlike so many nihilistic horror films. One of the best genre releases of the year, A Dark Song opens after midnight this Friday (4/28), at the IFC Center in New York.

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Tribeca ’17: Mr. Long

Movie gangsters have been taking a shine to neighborhood kids since Angels with Dirty Faces, but few have been domesticated as quickly as this Taiwanese hitman. His latest assignment takes him to Tokyo, but it will not turn out well. While laying low, he falls in with the son of a heroin-addicted former prostitute. It is unclear how serious his intentions are, but it will hardly matter much if his enemies find him in Sabu’s Mr. Long, which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Mr. Long only wields a short stiletto, but it is sufficiently lethal in his hands. We get a sample of his handiwork in the opening scene, but unfortunately, his yakuza prey gets the drop on him in a nightclub. Barely escaping with his life, Mr. Long crashes in a squat in the distressed outer boroughs, where he quickly befriends Jun, a young boy forced to care for his drug-addled mother Lily. As we learn in flashbacks, she was once relatively happy working as a high-class yakuza prostitute, but when she fell for her driver Kenji, Jun’s father, it launched them both on a steep downward spiral.

Bereft of passport and money, Mr. Long must while away a week or so before he can catch a mobbed-up freighter back to Kaohsiung. In that time, he will start assuming a surrogate father role with respects to Jun and help Lily quit cold turkey. With the encouragement of the nosy, but well-intentioned neighbors (they can be a bit too cute), he starts selling Taiwanese beef noodles from a street cart. Of course, it is inevitable the villains from his past or Lily’s will interrupt this peaceful interlude.

Viewers should be warned, they could very well feel like they were stabbed in the heart with a stiletto after watching Mr. Long. Much like Sabu’s shockingly moving Miss Zombie, Mr. Long takes familiar genre elements and recombines them into an emotionally devastating tragedy. As a case in point, viewers will hope a key figure will appear at an opportune time to save the day, but Sabu is too honest for that.

As Mr. Long, quietly brooding Chang Chen burns up the screen. It is one of his darkest, most powerful turns since his teen debut in Edward Yang’s classic A Brighter Summer Day. However, Yao Yiti is arguably an even great revelation as the heartbreaking Lily. She just rips the audience’s guts out and stomps on them. Likewise, Bai Runyin’s performance as Jun is mature beyond his years.

To maximize their impact, Sabu is stingy with the action scenes, but when he uncorks one, the fight choreography is spectacularly down-and-dirty. In fact, the long period of household tranquility makes the third act showdown exponentially more powerful. Mr. Long will knock the wind out of you and stay with you. Very highly recommended for fans of yakuza movies and Sabu’s work, Mr. Long screens again tonight (4/25), tomorrow (4/26), and Saturday (4/29), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Tribeca ’17: The Trip to Spain

Seriously, does anything go better with spicy seafood than Roger Moore impressions? They’re in Spain, you see. The Moors, Roger Moore. Get it? You will if you join Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for another culinary jaunt in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Spain, which screens again today at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Steve Coogan is still Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon is still Rob Brydon. Coogan was always the more famous one, but that is especially true now that he is riding high on the success of the ridiculously overrated Philomena. However, despite his professional frustrations, Brydon appears to be the happier one. It would be more accurate to say the loving father and sort of faithful husband is somewhat happy, whereas the emotionally unfulfilled Coogan is really just miserable. Of course, we are talking about their Trip franchise analogs, not the real comedians, right?

Regardless, Brydon and Coogan are together again, following up their restaurant tours of Italy and the North of England with a saunter through Spain. This time, Brydon will do the newspaper reviews, while Coogan takes notes for a self-indulgent book. Of course, Coogan brings up Philomena every chance he gets. His digs at Brydon also seem less good-natured, but his Welsh counterpart largely lets them roll off his back. After all, this is a good gig for the working-class celebrity.

Once again, the two bickering friends mine comedy gold from their dueling celebrity impressions. Coogan is also quite the good sport allowing Brydon and Winterbottom to deflate his pomposity for comic effect. There is no question Coogan and Brydon dominate this Trip, just like they did previous installments of the UK television series/US film franchise. However, Kyle Soller scores a lot of laughs in his scene-stealing cameo as Coogan’s ex-American agent.

All three Trips are consistently funny films, but they also offer a bittersweet, deeply humanistic portrayal of middle-age and its related insecurities. Frankly, the trilogy makes us willing to forgive Coogan for What Goes Up, whereas Brydon still has plenty of good credit accrued from his voice-work in the Julia Donaldson animated specials (The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom). Recommended like the return of a slightly balmy old friend that always raises your spirits, The Trip to Spain screens again tonight (4/24), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Danger Close: Alex Quade Tells the Special Forces’ Stories

If you were embarking on a dangerous mission, you would much prefer to have embedded journalist Alex Quade with you than a lot of our so-called allies. You could count on her to keep her head and make the right decisions during times of crisis. For her, the U.S. Special Forces soldiers are not just a subject to file and forget. They are the people she shared foxholes with. Quade does their stories justice in Christian Tureaud & David Salzberg’s documentary, Danger Close (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Danger Close is the third film in Tureaud & Salzberg’s trilogy (so far), documenting both the day-to-day and extreme warfighting conditions experienced by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, following The Hornet’s Nest and Citizen Soldier. Quade is highly simpatico with their approach. She never takes positions on the missions themselves, but she feels a duty to truthfully report the dangers and challenges the U.S. Special Forces and conventional military personnel face.

This is particularly true in the case of the late Green Beret Staff Sgt. Rob Pirelli. The chief engineer of his detachment, Pirelli built their combat outpost almost single-handedly from scratch. In appreciation of his labor, the men of ODA-072 christened it Combat Outpost Pirelli. After Pirelli was killed in action, his family took great pride in the honor Pirelli’s comrades bestowed on him. The Combat Outpost Pirelli insignia emblazoned on its fortified walls became particularly meaningful to them, so they asked Quade to verify that Camp Pirelli wall still stands proud. Obviously, an embed cannot just race off to a remote corner of the embattled Diyala province on her own accord. Yet, Quade slowly but tenaciously started working her way across the country to uphold her promise.

Clearly, Quade formed a bond with Pirelli’s family, but her personal mission ran deeper than that. In the opening minutes of DC, we see the Chinook helicopter Quade very nearly boarded get blown out of the sky by a shoulder-launched projectile. The concern the Special Forces rank-and-file show for her well-being, despite the fact she is merely a journalist, is decidedly not lost on her.

Taken together, Tureaud & Salzberg’s three films form an extraordinary record of the boots-on-the-ground combat experience. The marketer inside us would recommend a special gift edition box set for the holidays. Each one has moments of white knuckle tension and emotionally devastating sequences that bring home the human cost of war in no uncertain terms.

This time around, Tureaud & Salzberg had the advantage of all the amazing footage Quade shot, often when she was under fire. You can easily see why the military personnel she covered believed she had earned her spurs. Yet, she also handles the Pirelli family with the respect and sensitivity they are due.

It is important to point out Quade has extensive credits packaging and producing for CNN, because a certain cynical segment of the population (those who automatically equate patriotism with “jingoism”) will want to dismiss her as a Fox News plant or some such fantastical beast. The truth is Quade has put her life on the line reporting from the frontlines—and she has the videotape to prove it. She has already received the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s award for journalistic excellence, but Danger Close ought to bring Quade much wider recognition. Very highly recommended for mainstream, popular audiences nationwide, Danger Close opens this Friday (4/28) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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Tribeca ’17: The Escape (short)

Science fiction writer Robert Sheckley was never quite a household name, but he had good success with movie sales. The diverse films based on his work include The 10th Victim starring Ursula Andress, Freejack, and Disney’s Condorman. Over a decade after Sheckley’s death, Paul Franklin adds another entry to the Sheckley filmography, adapting his story “The Store of the Worlds” as the short film The Escape (trailer here), which screens as part of the Shorts: Your Heart’s Desire program at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Kellan is a dodgy back-alley scientist who has a tempting offer for miserable, life-tossed souls like Lambert. For a fee, he can temporarily transport them to one of the infinite alternate realities, where they can experience the life they truly crave. In addition to the high financial cost, the process also takes ten years off a customer’s life, so Lambert will have to think about it.

We subsequently learn Lambert is a white-collar family man, with a slightly bossy wife, a teen daughter, and a young son. He is under stress both at home and his downsizing office, but his pompous boss genuinely seems to like him. However, his desire for escape will make perfect sense in light of the big climatic reveal.

Unlike the campy 10th Victim and cartoony Condorman, The Escape is actually a sentimental sf fable, more in the spirit of Twilight Zone episodes like “A Stop at Willoughby” and “Kick the Can,” but it does have the occasion for some grand spectacle down the stretch. Indeed, The Escape is likely to attract attention, because it is the directorial debut of Franklin, who supervised special effects on several Christopher Nolan films, including the Dark Knight trilogy. Fans should not be disappointed, but they might be slightly surprised by his sensitive character-driven approach.

He also assembles a pretty impressive cast for a short, including an appropriately gaunt looking Julian Sands as Lambert, who really delivers the existential angst when the time comes. Olivia Williams plays off the mopey Lambert rather nicely as his forceful but loving wife, while Art Malik (from Jewel in the Crown and dozens of other British shows) anchors it all with authority as Kellan.

Experienced genre viewers might guess the big twist, but Franklin execution packs a powerful punch. It is quality production that just feels like it will come around again during award season, particularly since he has that Nolan connection. Regardless, it is worth seeing just as a smart science fiction film in its own right. Highly recommended, The Escape screens again tonight (4/24), Wednesday (4/26), and Saturday (4/29), during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tribeca ’17: Sweet Virginia

Perhaps it is time to rethink your dream of becoming a motelier in small town Alaska. It turns out that life is not all caviar and champagne. This is especially true for a nerve-damaged former rodeo star when a triple homicide stuns his sleepy burg. The killer happens to be sleeping in Sam Rossi’s sheets, so it is almost inevitable he will strike again uncomfortably close to home in Jamie M. Dagg’s Sweet Virginia, which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Ironically, the Virginia-born hitman calling himself Elwood recognizes fellow Virginian Rossi from his rodeo days. You could say he is in town on business. Elwood is responsible for killing three men playing their regular late night poker game at Tom Barrett’s restaurant. He had only been contracted by Lila McCabe to kill her abusive, good-for-nothing husband, but Elwood does not like to wait. Unfortunately, he will have to, if he wants to collect his money.

As it turns out, her loving hubby did not reveal their real financial situation to McCabe. It’s not pretty. Neither is the state of her conscience, knowing that two other men died because of her. Bernadette Barrett is also in a strange emotional place. She is truly sorry her husband died, but her growing feelings for Rossi, with whom she has been secretly carrying on an affair, remain undiminished. As the Widows Barrett and McCabe console each other, Elwood grows restive, which bodes ill for the town.

Sweet Virginia (a holdover title from earlier drafts set in rural VA, which really doesn’t make much sense anymore) is being billed as a “neo-western,” which is becoming a catch-all label for small town anxiety. Despite a few killings, it is worlds removed from Hell or High Water. The best part of Sweet VA is the relationship between Rossi and Barrett, two people wounded by life, who have found a bit of respite together. Unfortunately, most of the stuff around them plays out like warmed-over Fargo, except at a fraction of the pace.

Yet, to his credit, Dagg (who previously helmed the not-bad River) uncorks some tense scenes that make us sit up and suddenly start to care again. The opening murder scene is deceptively tense and a later home-invasion sequence is a real hum-dinger. In contrast, the unconvincing bromance that develops agonizingly slowly between Rossi and Elwood is mostly just a snooze.

John Bernthal and Rosemarie DeWitt are terrific as Rossi and Barrett. In contrast, Christopher Abbott seems to be trying to channel Shia LaBeouf as Elwood, which is a dubious strategy. Relying on little makeup, the glammed down Imogen Poots is still almost unrecognizable as McCabe, but she gets surprisingly little screen time, given her comparative prominence.

There is a lot of talent in this film, including Jessica Lee Gagné’s stylish cinematography. By process of elimination, we come to suspect the fundamental problem is the China Brothers’ inert screenplay. Frustratingly flawed, Sweet Virginia screens again tonight (4/23), Tuesday (4/25), and Thursday (4/27), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Tribeca ’17: Blues Planet (screening & concert)

If you grew up in the early 1970s, you might be more familiar with the blues legend Taj Mahal than you realized, thanks to his soundtrack for the hit film Sounder. Since then, the real deal bluesman and his music have graced many films and soundtracks, including The Hot Spot and Once When We Were Colored. As he approaches his 75th birthday, Taj Mahal racked up another screen credit in Wyland’s short documentary, Blue Planet: Triptych, which celebrated its world premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival with a special post-screening concert by the Phantom Blues Band, fronted by Mr. Taj Mahal himself.

Awkwardly, the film itself, written, produced, directed, and featuring uni-named environmental artist and activist Wyland, is pretty much a big nothing. We see Wyland mope around the mucky aftermath of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and listen to his platitudes, like “it will take all 7 billion of us to save this planet” (in which case, we’re done for, since the 2.5 billion people of China and India, or at least their governments, clearly aren’t on board). However, he tantalizes us with scenes of the Phantom Blues Band recording the forty-eight environmentally themed blues songs he wrote, in a New Orleans studio.

Technically, the film is rather unremarkable, to put it diplomatically, but it is well worth sitting through if you get to hear Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band play afterwards. It is a heck of a band, including NOLA’s Jon Cleary on keyboard, Willie K (“the Hawaiian Jimi Hendrix”) on guitar, and perennial jazz poll-topper Steve Turre (known for his long tenure in the Saturday Night Live band) on trombone and shells.

Despite some quickly resolved sound issues, “Dirty Oil” was an appropriate tune to kick off the set. It certainly highlighted Wyland’s eco message, but more importantly, it really brings out the Delta in Taj Mahal’s voice. “Going Back to the Ocean” sure sounds a lot like another well-known Blues standard, but there’s certainly a long “cut-and-paste” tradition in Blues, so who cares, especially when the Phantom Blues Band digs into it. “My Home is Your Home” nicely dialed it down for Nick-I Hernandez’s vocal turn and Cleary’s solo, both of which were quite eloquent. Throughout the set, Cleary laid down some tasty lines on a Roland trying to sound like a piano, while a chugging Hammond gave it a firm bottom, all of which is just such a kind combination of sounds.

Arguably, “Little Ocean Pearl” was the highlight of the set, featuring Taj Mahal on harmonica, Willie K on uke, and Turre on the shells. It is indeed fitting Turre’s shells had a feature spot, given the ocean theme. In this case, his solo was especially melodic and rich in sonic color. “Queen Honey Bee” also sounds like a hummable cross-over hit, with a lovely melody and “honeypot” lyrics that definitely suggest “blues” connotations. There was actually a surprising degree of textural and rhythmic variety in the set, with the pseudo-calypso “All Gone Now” aptly summing up Wyland’s message at the end.

At one point, an audience member shouted out “sound good,” to which Taj Mahal replied “after fifty-five years, you’d better sound like something.” He then added: “I’m just waiting for those rappers to get to 75.” Frankly, it looked like the blues legend could have played all day if they would have let him, and he sounded so good leading the Phantom Blues Band, it is a shame Tribeca didn’t just let him go. As a film, Blues Planet: Triptych is what it is, but getting to hear Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band play afterward is a treat you shouldn’t miss if you have the chance. Viewers will get a hint of what they missed when Wyland’s film also screens as part of the Shorts: S.O.S. program Tuesday (4/25), Wednesday (4/26), Saturday (4/29) and Sunday (4/30), as part of this year’s Tribeca.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Tribeca ’17: Hounds of Love

If Vicki Maloney had paid more mind to her mother, she would not be in this spot. Unfortunately, she snuck out when she was grounded and got into a car with strange people. We can only hope she was wearing clean underwear, because there is a very good chance she could end up dead in Ben Young’s Hounds of Love (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Maloney and her mother Maggie would be arguing like cats and dogs anyway, because that is what mothers and teen daughters do. However, her parents’ separation only makes matters worse, especially since her more financially secure father Trevor is so good at playing the abandonment card. Tragically, Maloney brief lapse of judgement might be fatal. It is clear John and Evelyn White have abducted, terrorized, and murdered a number of girls before her. Yet, even amid the horrors she endures, Maloney picks up on tensions between her tormentors. She has darn good reason to believe the manipulative John has been playing his needy wife and she can tell the more passive captor is starting to suspect it too.

Meanwhile, the Perth coppers are so unhelpful, they might as well be considered accomplices. However, the alarmed Maggie is in her fiercest mothering mode and will not be intimidated into waiting at home for Vicki to call. Old Trevor largely agrees with her, but he lacks her forcefulness. Basically, they are on their own, with the clock ticking.

It seems like abduction-captivity thrillers just keep getting increasingly more sadistic and disturbing. To be frank, Hounds continues the trend, but it also has redemptive substance to go with the unsettling cruelty. It sounds like a shameless pull-quote, but the third act climax really is so tense you can hardly breathe.

As John White, Stephen Curry creates a chilling portrait of clammy, calculating evil. In the potential victim role, Ashleigh Cummings gives a bravely exposed and vulnerable performance, but the real heart and soul of the film comes from Susie Porter’s defiantly haunting turn as Mother Maggie. In contrast, the arrested emotional development of Emma Booth’s Evelyn White does not always ring true, but her pathological codependency is generally credible enough to cover for it.

The sunny Australian Christmas season is also rather feverishly disorienting, like the original Die Hard transferred to a suburban dungeon. The 1980s period details are also spot-on. It is quite a distinctive way for Young, a TV and short film director, to announce his feature arrival. Recommended for fans of dark, provocative thrillers, Hounds of Love screens again this Monday (4/24) and Tuesday (4/25), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Tribeca ’17: The Midnight Service (series)

What do the Florida Everglades and Hendricks County, IN have in common? You can find some nice homes in both locales, but the neighboring population is sparse. That makes them prime spots for nefarious goings-on. Brett Potter & Dean Colin Marcial “document” spooky incidents in both respective regions in the upcoming web series, The Midnight Service, which screened as part of N.O.W. [New Online Work] Showcase A at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

As Josh Meek explains in episode one, “Pizza Delivery,” he did not want to make a delivery at the end of long dark stretch of rural road, but he reluctantly did so at his boss’s insistence. When he arrives, he finds the house empty—or is it? What he sees could have been a scene out of Lost Highway, except tighter and more focused. At just four minutes, Pizza Delivery is in fact super-focused.

The second episode screened, “Home Invasion” is twice as long, but its basic premise could support an entire feature film. One night, comedian Kat Toledano was housesitting in the Glades when a small-time local felon tried to violently break-and-enter, but he suddenly just up and vanished. About the same time, a park ranger in Everglades National Park observed a strange phenomenon from his observation station. Could these events be related?

Toledano is pretty funny playing it straight as herself, but the real stars of the show are the creepy ambiance and Brian McOmber’s massively eerie music. You can think of Midnight Service as the old Unsolved Mysteries TV show reconceived for post-Scream generations. It has an ironic sensibility, creating situations that clearly imply the work of some sort of uncanny agency, while scrupulously maintaining its ambiguity.

The first two episodes are indeed short, but Potter and Marcial sustain the sinister vibe from beginning to end. It also inspires confidence knowing Midnight is a production of Borscht Corp, who previously shepherded a number of cool genre shorts, including Kaiju Bunraku and Boniato. Regardless, it is so vividly weird, it might just catch on when it launches online. Recommended for fans of urban legends and true crime re-enactments, The Midnight Service world premiered at this year’s Tribeca.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Tribeca ’17: Gilbert

It’s like the turning of leaves or the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano. Periodically, somebody in the outrage business gets apoplectic over something Gilbert Gottfried said. Normally, the joke is on them, but when admittedly tasteless tsunami jokes cost the comedian his lucrative Aflac commercial gig, many assumed the speech police had finally claimed his scalp. Yet, the manically nebbish stand-up is still standing. Viewers get a peek behind his outrageous facade in Neil Berkeley’s documentary profile Gilbert, which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Gottfried was always a comic’s comic in part because of his gleeful willingness to skewer sacred cows. His career kicked into high gear after his characteristically frenzied cameo in Beverly Hills Cop 2, but probably his biggest paydays were as the voice of the parrot in Aladdin and the Aflac duck. Berkeley duly covers Gottfried career high/low lights, such as his notorious appearance at the Hugh Hefner roast, which started with poorly received 9-11 jokes and ended with essentially the public debut of the filthy-as-the-day-is-long “Aristocrats” joke that has always been reserved for private one-upmanship among fellow comics.

The very same Gottfried also happens to be married to a woman who seems to be emotionally healthy and well-adjusted. Even Gottfried isn’t sure how that worked. Berkeley worms his way into their private lives pretty deeply, giving us some insight into their relationship. Clearly, Gottfried is a guarded person by nature, but he opens up—probably more than he expected. We also learn how close he was to his mother and his sisters. Granted, Gilbert is nowhere as revealing as Weiner—and thank goodness for that—but it humanizes the eccentric comedian to a shocking extent.

In many ways, Gilbert compares with Neil Barsky’s thoroughly entertaining Ed Koch documentary, aptly titled Koch. Both were very private individuals, yet they rather unrepentantly ignited public controversies with their outspokenness. However, Berkeley hardly explores the free speech implications of the Gilbert Gottfried experience, beyond some hat-tips to Lenny Bruce. For that kind of analysis, check out Ted Balaker’s funny and frightening Can We Take a Joke?, featuring the post-Aflac Gottfried.

The portrait of Gottfried that emerges through Berkeley’s lens is quite complex, but fans need not worry. He is still happy to meet their expectations for crudeness and crassness. Funny yet weirdly endearing, Gilbert is highly recommended for everyone except Puritanical Social Justice Warriors when it screens again tonight (4/21), Tuesday (4/25), and next Friday (4/28), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Tribeca ’17: Clive Davis the Soundtrack of Our Lives

He is the record executive who finally figured out how to get the Grateful Dead, the original jam band, on the singles chart. Clive Davis also signed a few of his own discoveries you might remember, like Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys. Frankly, just signing Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company to Columbia Records pretty much guaranteed him a place in the music industry history books. It is hard not to take a “gee whiz” approach to Davis’s career, so Chris Perkel doesn’t even try throughout the briskly nostalgic Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, the opening night film of the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Originally recruited for Columbia/CBS’s legal department, Davis was elevated to head the music department almost (if not entirely) by accident. However, once he was there, he quickly learned to trust his ears and instincts. Liberating the label from influential A&R man (and sing-along bandleader) Mitch Miller’s anti-rock biases, Davis signed acts like Joplin, Santana, Chicago, Aerosmith, and Bruce Springsteen, many of whom panned out over time.

Despite making pots of money for Columbia, Davis was forced out after a manufactured payola scandal broke in the media (at least that is Team Clive’s side of the story and Perkel never questions it). Of course, he landed on his feet, founding Arista, a new record label subsidiary for Columbia Pictures (no relation to his former employer) nearly from scratch. His signings were eclectic (Barry Manilow, Aretha Franklin, Gil Scott-Heron, and The Dead), but almost uniformly successful. Perversely, history would repeat itself when Davis was forced out at the peak of Arista’s commercial performance, for apparent reasons of ageism. Yet, Davis would again have the last laugh at J Records.

Let’s be honest, if you want to make a documentary about someone with Davis’s level of industry power and secure the participation of artists such as Springsteen, Bob Weir, Patti Smith, Cissy Houston, Carlos Santana, Simon and Garfunkle (separately, not together) as well as collaborators like Gamble & Huff and Simon Cowell, by airing a lot of dirty laundry. However, from a viewer’s perspective, the perfunctory and defensive treatment of the Columbia/CBS scandal raises more suspicions than it dismisses.

Still, it is tough to beat Davis’s career retrospective for its nostalgia value. It is kind of mind-blowing Davis launched Whitney Houston’s career on the Merv Griffin Show, but Perkel has the video to prove it. Or how about digging “[Have You Heard from] Johannesburg,” perhaps the grooviest, swingingest protest song ever, from Scott-Heron, whom Davis rightly credits as the original rapper?  Remember when American Idol was a big deal? It was Davis’s J Records that immediately whisked the winners into the studio.

At least Perkel deals forthrightly with Whitney Houston’s very tragic and public meltdown. On the other hand, he spends a disproportionate about of time on Davis’s saccharine creation, Kenny G, which will tarnish his image with a lot of hipper viewers. Still, you have to give Davis credit for his willingness to back comeback vehicles for past chart-toppers, like Rod Stewart’s American Songbook releases and Santana’s Smooth.

Throughout it all, the smiling Davis reminisces about his career highlights, going back to when he signed Moses to read the stone tablets he found on Mount Sinai for a spoken word album. It is definitely a fannish film, but with war stories like this, Perkel largely gets away with it. Recommended as an insidery history of pop music from 1967 to pretty much right now, Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives screens again tonight (4/21) and Sunday (4/23), during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Tribeca ’17: Super Dark Times

At least this violent high school tragedy cannot be cynically exploited by the personal rights-encroaching nanny-state lobby. Perhaps there is a movement to ban samurai swords, but it is hard to see it gaining much momentum, even with this example of the accidental killing of a classmate. The incident emotionally and psychologically devastates two life-long friends, leading to some very bad things in Kevin Phillips’ Super Dark Times, which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Zach and Josh have always been inseparable, even though they both carry a torch for the same popular girl in their class. Sometimes they knock about with Charlie and they will reluctantly allow Daryl, the annoying tubby kid, to tag along. One day, Josh takes his enlisted brother’s samurai sword out into the woods to slice up milk cartons with the other three lads. Unfortunately, Daryl is being his usual grabby, pestering self, except maybe worse. One thing leads to another and Josh inadvertently slices Daryl. Thoroughly freaked out and panicky, the three survivors cover his body with brush and resolve to never talk about it again.

Of course, living with this kind of corrosive secret takes a toll on their souls. Zach manages to keep up appearances, but he is reeling inside. In contrast, Josh seems to go numb, retreating into himself and recording extended absences from class. When he returns, he seems cold and distant. Soon thereafter, a classmate he is known to dislike dies under mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter. Subsequent events lead Zach to suspect his best bud may have developed a taste for killing.

In this case, how Super Dark is programmed has a direct bearing on whether we can recommend it. Phillips’ film is a selection of the “midnight” section, which implies a certain level of mayhem and attitude. Patrons come to midnight screenings expecting to “have fun” with a film, but Super Dark is tonally much more akin to a film like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. As a result, the regular midnight crew is likely to walk out of it feeling depressed and sucker-punched.

That really does Super Dark a disservice, because it is in fact a film of some merit. It is a tough, honest film that does not resort to cheap sentimentality or lazy takeaways. We cannot ascribe the violence in the film to the influence of drugs or explicit video games. Nor can we blame parental neglect. It is just a function of a sickness in the soul, for which Josh apparently has a greater susceptibility.

Owen Campbell and Charlie Tahan are both unremittingly intense as Zach and Josh. However, it is some of the supporting turns that really breathe life into the film. Elizabeth Cappuccino finds surprising depth and subtly in Allison, the “It Girl,” while Amy Hargreaves adds further dimension and maturity to the proceedings, as Zach’s “cool” but loving single mom Karen. Frankly, the fact that she is so oblivious is rather disturbing, precisely because she seems to be doing everything right.

Phillips deliberately keeps the proceedings dark and dour, which certainly suits the film’s grim view of human nature. The genre elements, such as they are, decidedly reflect an austerely naturalistic aesthetic. That makes it a distinctive calling card for Phillips and his ensemble, but not much of a midnight movie. Look, just because you like a film doesn’t mean you should select it for your festival track. That’s why it’s called programming. Regardless, mature audiences should consider checking it out eventually. For now, it screens again tonight (4/21), tomorrow (4/22), and Sunday (4/23), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.


Tribeca ’17: King of Peking

Deng Xiaoping died in 1997, shortly after commercial DVDs were introduced to the marketplace. In many ways, these two events heralded the end of eras: a time of relative openness in China and the golden age of home video. Granted, DVDs have certain advantages in terms of space that make them more attractive to would-be pirates. In order to maintain custody of his son, a down-sized projectionist launches such a piracy scheme in Sam Voutas’s King of Peking, which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Big Wong was once a professional projectionist, but in recent years he has eked out a living as an itinerant showman screening films in provincial villages. Unfortunately, when his projector flares out, he is forced to accept a lowly custodial job at a large but shabby neighborhood movie theater. This is not just an economic setback. It means his ex-wife will have grounds to reclaim custody of their son, Little Wong. As a railroad porter, her situation is not ideal either, but it is stable.

However, Big Wong finds opportunity in adversity. The janitor job comes with a basement apartment and access to the projection booth—and the cans of film stored within. Soon, Big Wong is doing a brisk trade in pirated films, right under his employer’s nose. However, the underground nature of his “King of Peking” bootleg distribution business involves complications that will jeopardize his standing with Little Wong.

King of Peking is the sort of film that makes audiences nostalgic for a time and place they never experienced for themselves. We can feel something is lost in the passing of the communal movie screenings, despite the convenience and comfort of home viewing options (legal or black market). There is a whiff of an Edward Yang vibe and a pinch of Hou Hsiao-hsien seasoning, but King is much more accessible and relatable, like a cross between De Sica’s Bicycle Thief and Ozu’s Floating Weeds, but with more classic Hollywood references.

Zhao Jun and Wang Naixun are simply a remarkable tandem as Big and Little Wong, respectively. One glance at their body language tells you all you need to know about their loving but often strained relationship. Zhao is especially poignant as the father finding himself hoisted on his own good intentions and ethical shortcuts. He really ought to be a leading contender for best actor in the international competition. Plus, Han Qing truly humanizes Wong’s ex, Lei Lin, rather than playing her as a stereotypical shrew.

Everything about King is wistful and acutely human. Charming but never cloying, it is a film with a big heart and street smarts. Anyone will appreciate its scruffy family drama, but cineastes will be particularly taken with its movie love. Very highly recommended, King of Peking screens again tonight (4/21), tomorrow (4/22), Saturday (4/29), and Sunday (4/30), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.


Nashville ’17: Bill Frisell, a Portrait

If you are a professional musician of some name, who hasn’t played with Bill Frisell, you’re probably pretty boring. It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with category. Frisell is best known as a jazz artist, but he can play anything with anyone, including classical string music, experimental hardcore, free improv, folk, roots, blues, and country. He always fits in, yet he always sounds like himself. Emma Franz profiles the superhumanly busy guitarist in Bill Frisell: A Portrait (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Nashville Film Festival.

Fortunately, Franz talks to a small army of famous musicians who have played with Frisell, because he is not the type to sing his own praises. It is doubly fortuitous, considering two of his most important colleagues are no longer with us. The late, great Jim Hall, with whom he studied and later recorded with as a duo, argues he might have influenced Frisell initially, but in later years, Hall was influenced by Frisell. Similarly, the late and equally great Paul Motian reminisces about the formation of his classic trio with Frisell and Joe Lovano. It is hard to believe they are both gone, but their contributions to Franz’s film provide a nice way to remember them.

Of course, they are not the only musicians offering testimonials. We also hear from Lovano, Ron Carter, John Abercrombie, Jason Moran, John Zorn, Nels Cline, Jack DeJohnette, Bonnie Raitt, and Paul Simon. More importantly, we get to hear him perform in a variety of contexts, including the Motian-Lovano trio, a new trio with Jason Moran, and the avant-garde chamber ensemble, the 858 Quartet. Some of the music swings way harder than you might expect, while some is just arrestingly beautiful, but it is always interesting.

On the other hand, you might have to be a bit of guitar nut to appreciate the countless instruments Frisell show-and-tells for Franz, many of which were hand-painted by relatively well-known artists. Regardless, Frisell’s aw-shucks attitude wears well over time. In fact, he is extraordinarily modest for a man who is probably called a genius several times a day.

Arguably, Nashville is the perfect place to screen Frisell’s documentary. Sure, it is known as a country town, but he has done that too. However, the Nashville studio warriors should be able to relate. They can play anything, anywhere, at any time, as long as the pay is decent. They are also sure to be familiar with at least some of Frisell’s voluminous recorded output. For those coming in cold, Franz and company convincingly establish Frisell’s significance in music today, across genre boundaries, whereas everyone should enjoy the generous musical selections. Highly recommended, Bill Frisell: A Portrait screens Monday (4/24) and Tuesday (4/25) at this year’s Nashville Film Festival.

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